Scott Hanselman

Review: The AmpliFi HD (High-Density) Home Wi-Fi Mesh Networking System

July 6, '17 Comments [38] Posted in Reviews
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The AmpliFi Router is a cute small white box with a black circular touchscreenI've been very happy with the TP-Link AC3200 Router I got two years ago. It's been an excellent and solid router. However, as the kids get older and the number of mobile devices (and smart(ish) devices) in the house increase, the dead wifi spots have become more and more noticeable. Additionally I've found myself wanting more control over the kids' internet access.

There's a number of great WiFi Survey Apps but I was impressed with the simplicity of this Windows 10 WiFi Survey app, so I used it to measure the signals around my house, superimposed with a picture of the floor plan.

Here's the signal stretch of the TP-Link. Note that when you're using a WiFi Survey app you need to take into consideration if you're measuring 2.4GHz that gives you better distance at slower speeds, or 5GHz that can give you a much faster connection at the cost of range. As a general rule in a single room or small house, 5GHz is better and you'll absolutely notice it with video streaming like Netflix.

Below is a map of the 5GHz single for my single TP-Link router. It's "fine" but it's not epic if you move around. You can guess from the map that the router is under the stairs in the middle.

My older router's wifi map shows mostly Yellow

You can also guess where concrete walls are, as well as the angles of certain vectors that pass through thick walls diagonally and affect the signal. Again, it's OK but it's starting to be annoying and I wanted to see if I could fix it.

SIDE BAR: It is certainly possible to take two routers and combine them into one network with a shared SSID. If you know how to do this kind of thing (and enjoy it) then more power to you. I tried it out in 2010 and it worked OK, but I want my network to "just work" 100% of the time, out of the box. I like the easy setup of a consumer device with minimal moving parts. Mesh Networking products are reaching the consumer at a solid price point with solid tech so I thought it was time to make the switch.

Below is the same map with the same locations, except using the AmpliFi HD (High-Density) Home Wi-Fi System from Ubiquiti Networks. This is the consumer (or "prosumer") version of the technology that Ubiquiti (UBNT) uses in their commercial products.

AmpliFi HD includes the router and two "mesh points." These are extenders that use a mesh tech called 3x3 MIMO. They can transmit and receive via 3 streams at a low level. MIMO is part of the 802.11n spec.

The Singal from the AmpliFi HD is fantastic

Note that this improvement is JUST using the AmpliFi main router. When you do a Wifi Survey the "Mesh Points" will show up as the same SSID (the same wireless network) but they'll have different MAC Address. That means in my list of networks in the Survey tool my "HanselMesh" network appears three times. Don't worry, it's one SSID and your computers will only see ONE network - it's just advanced tools that see each point. It's that "meshing" of n number of access points that is the whole point.

These two maps below are the relative strengths of just the mesh points. It's the union of all three of these maps that gives the clear picture. For example, one mesh point covers the living area fantastically (as does the router itself) while the other covers the garage (not that it needs it) and the entire office.

The mesh points make the signal better in parts of the houseThe mesh points make the signal better in parts of the house

Between the main router and the two included mesh points there are NO dead spots in the house. I'll find the kids in odd corners with an iPad, behind a couch in the play room where they couldn't get signal before. I'm finding myself sitting in different rooms than I did before just because I can roam without thinking about it.

I would suspect I could get away with buying just the AmpliFi Router (around US$133) and maybe one mesh point extender but the price for all three (router + 2 mesh points) is decent. The slick part is that you can add mesh points OR a second router. It's the second router idea that is most compelling for multi-floor buildings that also have a wired network. For example, I could add a second router (not a mesh point) upstairs and plug it into the wall (so it's "wire backed").

The mesh points plug into the wall and just sit there. You can adjust them, bend them to point towards the router, and best of all - move them at will. For example, when I set up the network initially I put the two mesh points where I thought they'd work best. But one didn't and Netflix was dropping. I literally unplugged it and moved it into the hallway and plugged it in. A minute later that whole area was full speed. This means if I did/do find a dead spot, I could just move the mesh point either temporarily or permanently.

The router is adorable. Like "I wish it wasn't in a closet" adorable. It's pretty enough that you'll want it on your desk. It has a great LCD touchscreen and a lighted base. The touchscreen shows your IP, total bandwidth this month (very useful, in fact), and bandwidth currently used.

The router is best set-up with an iPhone/iPad or Android device. There is a VERY minimal web interface but you really can't manage the Amplfi (as of the time of this writing) with a web browser - it really is designed to be administered with a mobile app. And frankly, I'm OK with it because the app is excellent.

The AmpliFi App says "Everything is Great"35Mbs up/down

The download/upload numbers there aren't the maximum speed - it's the bandwidth being used right now. You can test the speed elsewhere in the app. I have 35Mb/s up and down (usually) in my house, but Gigabit inside (which is useful as I have a Synology server internally).

There a lot of ways to restrict internet for the kids. I like that the Amplify lets me group devices and apply time-limits to them. Here the Xbox and two tablets can't use the internet until 9am and they turn off at bedtime.

Notice the pause buttons as well. I can temporarily pause internet on any one device (or group of devices) whenever.

imagePhoto Jun 25, 7 41 23 PM

When you're setting up the network and positioning the mesh points you can see near-realtime signals updates in the app.

100% signal on this Mesh Point72% signal on this Mesh Point

And once it's all done, you can impose a basic QoS (Quality of Service) on individual devices by telling the AmpliFi what they are used for. Here I've setup a device for multi-player gaming, while some iPads are used mostly for streaming.

Setting up Streaming in AmpliFiNew Updates are available

Setup is a snap. It took longer to go to each device and connect them to the new network than it did to set up the network. I suppose I could have kept the same SSID and password as the old network but I wanted a fresh start and easier A/B testing.

So far I have been 100% thrilled with the AmpliFi HD. It's important to point out again that AmpliFi is the consumer arm of Ubiquiti (UBNT) and that a dozen programmer/techie-types on Twitter insisted suggested that I needed these Enterprise/Commercial Access Points. I get it. They are more advanced, fancier, offer more stats and more control. But honestly, my house isn't that big, the data I'm pushing around isn't that complex, and I don't want a Commercial Level of control. I was (and am) thoroughly impressed with the consumer stuff. The app is excellent and improving. The coverage is complete and fast. The AmpliFi is rated at 450 Mbps for 2.4 GHz and 1.3 Gbps for 5 GHz). Even if I upgrade my internet to my localities max of 150 Mbps (I only pay for 35 Mbps today) I'm not anywhere near that limit externally, and I'm not doing anything close internally.

That said, here's some things I'd like in future updates:

  • Simpler port-forwarding with common rules. "This xbox/that service"
  • An open source VPN server. I'd like to VPN directly into the Ubiquiti, rather than into my Synology.
  • More quality of service/prioritization details. "The office server always has preferred packets, period"
  • Mobile alerts - I'd like to know if I go over x bandwidth, or if we are streaming at x Mbs for y hours.
  • A fully featured administration web console.

And yes, I realize NOW I should have called the Network "Hanselmesh." Missed opportunity.

I highly recommend the AmpliFi HD. I frankly have no complaints other than my small wish list above. Buy one via my Amazon referral links so I can keep blogging in my spare time AND buy tacos. Your use of these links gives me walking around money. Thanks for reading!


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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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Thursday, 06 July 2017 05:02:11 UTC
Just wanted to add my agreement here. I have it deployed in a large 3 storey house with gigabit internet and have been thrilled with it. I've never had to reset it, it gets new features with every update, and the coverage and performance are excellent. I'm considering swapping out the mesh point on the main living floor with a other router configured for wires backhaul as that's where we do the vast majority of our wireless access from (2 laptops, Chromecast, Fire TV Stick, etc.) but honestly even that would be overkill.
Damian Edwards
Thursday, 06 July 2017 05:08:17 UTC
I got one as well, at the same time. Impressed with it overall.

To your list of suggested features I would like to add:
1) in the usage usage (total bandwidth) I'd like to set a rule on when to reset it i.e. 20th of every month. I'd also like to be able to compare data usage month-by-month
2) capture total data by device. I'd really like to know who is gobbling up all my bandwidth over time
Ben Chartrand
Thursday, 06 July 2017 05:23:34 UTC
Damian - Ya I wanted/want to do the same and add a wired-backed second router but you nailed it - it's totally overkill. It works great NOW. How could it work better? It'd just be cooler ;)
Scott Hanselman
Thursday, 06 July 2017 06:03:35 UTC
I too like the Ubiquiti equipment. I bought the EdgeRouter Lite (https://www.ubnt.com/edgemax/edgerouter-lite/). I was tired of the limited consumer routers that never seemed to get updated or provide level of control I wanted. However, I do get a little overwhelmed at times. Want full control, SSH in and run start up script or whatever.
Phil Bolduc
Thursday, 06 July 2017 06:42:57 UTC
Do the mesh points need to be within visual site of the base unit or anything like that to extend the network well? For instance my router is downstairs and I get bad signal upstairs. Would setting up a mesh network just give me a great signal that still only runs at 2400 baud speed? Do the mesh units talk between themselves on a different wave length that can get through the wall better?
Davin
Thursday, 06 July 2017 07:20:51 UTC
No line of site. They amplify by sending it a shorter distance. So you could put one directly above the Router, and the mesh would then handle upstairs. It's that the meshpoints can be anywhere so you can really minimize distance. I have one in a hallway. https://blog.amplifi.com/2016/10/14/whats-under-amplifis-hood-mimo-explained/
Scott Hanselman
Thursday, 06 July 2017 08:12:41 UTC
I got one of their accesspoint which is less than half price of your setup. Works aboslutely perfect for my house which is one floor with basement and a concrete joist (router in basement).
The downside is the need of a wire to the accesspoint but if you can live with that you can save some money.
Håkan
Thursday, 06 July 2017 10:19:14 UTC
I setup Google WiFi recently to replace my LinkSys AC1900. The difference is night-and-day in terms of overall coverage and reliability. I setup three units: one in an entryway closet, one at the opposite end of the ground floor, and one upstairs near my kids' bedrooms. Now everyone gets a great WiFi signal anywhere in the house.
Jim Lamb
Thursday, 06 July 2017 10:40:03 UTC
Great article. Thank you for explaining so clearly. Still a bit fuzzy on the term "bachaul"?
Flydeck
Thursday, 06 July 2017 11:31:11 UTC
I currently live in a historic home with lathe and plaster walls that eats up wi-fi signals like nowhere else I've ever lived. I'm using 3 of the Amplifi routers all with wired backhaul and I now have perfect wi-fi coverage even in this challenging environment. I tried using a wireless connection for the routers first, but the signal strength was terrible and having wired backhaul as an option is what made the system workable for me. Like you I had several friends tell me I should use the Ubiquiti access points instead, but the highest performance Ubiquiti APs are designed for ceiling mount and my wife was having none of that. The Amplifi routers have been a great compromise, providing excellent coverage without having commercial AP "UFOs" on the ceilings ruining the historic vibe.
Brad Guilford
Thursday, 06 July 2017 13:16:05 UTC
Scott, Love your reviews. Can you tell me how your devices fare when they are moved around the house inside the Hanselmesh? I am using FIOS with an Actiontec MOCA Wi-Fi Extender at my house and with the same ssid my phone has trouble changing networks from the weak to strong...
Peter Galvin
Thursday, 06 July 2017 13:34:17 UTC
"The router is best set-up with an iPhone/iPad or Android device. There is a VERY minimal web interface but you really can't manage the Amplfi (as of the time of this writing) with a web browser - it really is designed to be administered with a mobile app."

And there's the rub - no UWP app. I really don't want to give up my Lumia 950, but very soon now there will be the essential app that I need that will force me to iOS or Android.
Thursday, 06 July 2017 13:55:56 UTC
Not much said about security. In the wild, wild, west that is IoT, the need to segregate your refrigerator from your TV from your home network can be critical in my view. How does your solution stack in in that regard?

TIA
Rowland Gosling
Thursday, 06 July 2017 13:58:40 UTC
@Peter I don't want to speak for Scott but I have had this setup for the entire year (okay, might have been setup on Jan 2) and I don't see "hiccups" while I move around the house. This setup supports wifi standards to help hand your device over to other nodes or to help keep it on a particular node. Some older wifi devices might not support this, so if for example you have an original iPad, then you might see some hiccups as it transitions from one node to another. However, it's generally pretty seemless. This is as tested from Android phones (Pixel, HTC A9), iPhones, and a few laptops (Dell XPS and HP Spectre 360). I have a ton more WiFi devices but they're mostly stationary.

Hope this helps!
Thursday, 06 July 2017 14:01:39 UTC
@Rowland The setup supports a Home network and a Guest network. The guest network has no access to anything on the Home network (although if you setup a custom DNS that exists on your home, the router will proxy guest network requests for you). The Guest network does not support device isolation. However, you can have separate SSIDs for the different frequencies (2.4/5.0).

I'm not sure there's anything else currently supported to help with IoT security other than what you can do with that.
Thursday, 06 July 2017 15:03:27 UTC
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ubiquiti_Networks#Open-source_licensing_compliance
OSS fan
Thursday, 06 July 2017 16:32:03 UTC
Perfect timing on this review as I'm trying to solve home network issues in my mostly gigabit wired 2 story house. I was on an AirPort Extreme and extended via ethernet with an AirPort Express. I am now testing Netgear Orbi system with only one satellite. I'm still not impressed with my numbers. Big ask, but would love to see how iperf3 performs in your home network to see what your speeds internally are at a few different locations. Just run iperf3 -s on a wired server and iperf3 -c {serverip} on a wireless client to see what your results are.
Terry Aney
Thursday, 06 July 2017 16:58:46 UTC
How are the guest network features?
Brian Baker
Thursday, 06 July 2017 17:12:11 UTC
Regarding children and wireless technology safety in general:

http://www.safeschool.ca/The_Swiss_Model.html

http://ehtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Schools-and-Wireless-Briefing-October-2015.pdf
Thursday, 06 July 2017 18:06:34 UTC
This is a great article. I have been considering a mesh network because I wanted to improve signal in the house. What has been your experience with the hand-off points? One issue that I haven't figured out how to overcome is when walking through the house using an app that will re-connect when it switches network points (such as wifi to LTE). I found when I tried to manually mesh with multiple routers, I still had drops when handing off. Do you experience this?
Chris K
Thursday, 06 July 2017 18:07:52 UTC
Nevermind.. I realize Shane answered the above question (really wish I could edit!!)
Chris K
Thursday, 06 July 2017 18:20:08 UTC
What is the difference between the "Long-range" and "High-density" options for the typical user?

TIA
Thursday, 06 July 2017 18:53:32 UTC
Hanselmesh surely?
Thursday, 06 July 2017 19:43:03 UTC
The difference is night-and-day in terms of overall coverage and reliability. I setup three units: one in an entryway closet, one at the opposite end of the ground floor, and one upstairs near my kids' bedrooms. Now everyone gets a great WiFi signal anywhere in the house.
Thursday, 06 July 2017 21:57:15 UTC
CenturyLink Fiber requires PPPoE authentication and VLAN tagging (201) to work correctly. Since I didn't want to continue renting the crappy CenturyLink router for $10/month, I was able to flash my Asus router with Asuswrt-Merlin firmware that supports this.

Do you know if PPPoE / VLAN tagging is supported by the AmpliFi HD?
NickS
Friday, 07 July 2017 00:32:36 UTC
Just wanted to point out they sell these individually as well. I was replacing an older DLink router and I bought just the base unit. It may be a little overkill without mesh points but I loved the base unit looks and the fact that the configuration is all on the phone. It was a huge improvement moving from the older DLink. I may add a mesh point at a later date, but for now, the base unit itself is filling my single story home without issues.
JeffH
Friday, 07 July 2017 15:09:53 UTC
Damian, Scott, others with experience with this. I have a two-story (old) house but my wifi coverage upstairs is abysmal. Would you recommend a wired secondary router upstairs with an extra meshpoint upstairs as well, or would dumping meshpoints in every room work as well? Don't have network wired upstairs, but can do if needed.

This sounds like a great solution for my wifi woes. Thanks in advance for some advice.
Dirk van Bergen
Saturday, 08 July 2017 01:05:59 UTC
@William: The "Long-Range" and "Standard" models were in production only for a short period of time before they consolidated on just the HD model. They were non-AC (and other limitations) models that shaved a few bucks at significantly poorer performance. As best as I can remember (that was months ago when I looked into them), the HD version is what Scott has, the LR version had AC-compatible AFi-R (cube) but only N-compatible Meshpoints (remote nodes), and the standard version was N-compatible everything (or maybe weaker antennas in the AFi-R or something like that with a gimped AFi-R model).

I assume (don't know anything, pure speculation) Ubnt received feedback that these lower-end models weren't worth the discount and that it'd be better to standardize on just the good model while shaving its cost a tad based on the add'l efficiencies gained by having just the one level of models.

As best as I can tell, Ubnt doesn't sell these lower-end models anymore although they're still in the retail (and aftermarket) supply chains. I wouldn't consider buying these if I were you.
Saturday, 08 July 2017 01:10:30 UTC
@NickS: When looking at the screen for WAN-side configurations, I *think* these are supported. I have never tried them so don't take my word for it, but I think they're there. You can probably call the tech support number and just ask somebody point-blank about this before buying and they can probably speak more intelligently than I can. I actually called it for the first time and the guy who answered the phone for me just so happened to also be one of the engineers leading their beta program (which I've managed to get in although it hasn't really started yet).

But anyways... I see "PPPoE" in the "Network Type" settings (options are DHCP, Static, and PPPoE). I've never used anything but DHCP so I know nothing but I suspect this is what you're asking for on that front. I also see under "Other" a setting for "VLAN ID" (it's right next to the "Clone MAC Address" setting, so that leads me to believe that's WAN-side and not LAN-side).
Saturday, 08 July 2017 01:16:07 UTC
@Dirk van Bergen:

I would say that, if you're in doubt, buy two AFi-R units (the cube-shaped router) and run a cable between the two. You can buy two of those for cheaper than what you get the three-pack kit with one AFi-R and two Meshpoints (the cableless mesh nodes). However, if for some reason you really want to try the kit, then I'd suggest putting one of the mesh nodes upstairs right above your AFi-R unit so it has the best chance to "punch through" your floor, which sounds like it blocks signal very well. Fortunately, you *do* have the option of using either 2.4GHz or 5.0GHz as your "Backhaul" frequency. Normally you'd want 5.0GHz for the backhaul but if you have exceptional circumstances like this (or reaching out to a shed in the backyard is another example I give people), 2.4GHz might work better. So you might have luck with just a Meshpoint upstairs.

If you need more guidance than that, then the best I can suggest is to take whatever router you have right now and compare the signal in the room right above it. If you'd consider that to be "good", then I think you'll be fine since a new signal will be rebroadcast from upstairs. But if even that signal right now is poor, then you probably want a cable.
Sunday, 09 July 2017 02:18:08 UTC
Just bought this based on your review and I like a lot of the features so far. Not so thrilled about the wifi password also being the password for the web management site. I think the coverage is better now but it seems like the router itself has much more range than the mesh points, but I need to play around with where I'm placing them. Thanks!
Monday, 10 July 2017 15:31:41 UTC
In addition to WAF I also have the KAF. Back in the day multiple routers with dd-WRT were fun and a level of pain I could live with in return for the learning experience. WAF and KAF multiply the pain factor by about 10x, so I totally agree with waiting for good consumer devices and management tools. Thanks for the timely review, we're going to cut the cord this summer and need to upgrade our network to support the streaming.
Monday, 10 July 2017 20:06:05 UTC
- A fully featured administration web console.

Their UniFi line (with "Cloud Key") takes care of that. I've been happily using their products since Troy Hunt first recommended them.

I am with you on wanting them to support a VPN server out of the box. Or, rather, in the box.


For the people above asking about IoT isolation and guest networks, I've got my Ubiquiti system set up with a guest WiFi network that goes directly to the internet and also isolates guests from each other. I've also set up a range of Ethernet ports in their PoE switch to do the same (even going so far as to assign IP addresses from a completely different subnet). You could use a similar configuration for a hotel-like setup. I've also got a second guest network and range of Ethernet ports that isolates devices to my network with no external internet access (mainly for security cameras and sensors).
Mike C
Wednesday, 12 July 2017 20:44:32 UTC
If you called the new network HanselMesh, would that make the old network HanselMeh? ;)
Thursday, 13 July 2017 18:37:47 UTC
@Bryant Likes:

I totally agree with you, but I also think that the current web management site is also just a temporary implementation. Seems like it's there mostly to throw a bone to people until they get it up and running. They've been continually improving this product since I bought mine around Christmas time. The current functionality is MUCH better than when I originally bought it (I was *close* to returning it b/c of a couple deal-breakers that they quickly fixed/changed). I'd be shocked if we still had a web portal in 6 months that looks like what we see today.

@Mike C:

The enterprise Ubiquiti products certainly solve any and every problem that the AmpliFi system has, except for cost and simplicity. AmpliFi is a "it just works" product but a full blown UniFi setup takes considerable planning to be able to get whole-house mesh networking setup. Firstly, there isn't a standard $350 box to buy that does it all. Instead, it's about 7 boxes ranging from $100 to $800 that you buy (you'll probably drop $2k or so on the equipment if you get UniFi equipment for everything). And unless you're a heavy IT user, you're going to struggle mightily to be able to identify what those 7 boxes are.

These "complaints", however, are not just the complaints of heavy tech users but they are beginning to become the complaints of common users as well.
"How can I use my laptop securely at the coffee shop?"
"How can I keep my thermostat from being hacked and then hacking my family PCs?"
"How can I play multi-player games on my Xbox without enabling this thing people say is insecure called UPNP?"

Sure, these are more advanced problems than what the public cared about 5 years ago but these are beginning to become real concerns for the average Joe. And given that the AmpliFi system is targeted to the Average Joe, I think it's beginning to become justified for such a high-end consumer/prosumer product to handle such concerns.

But you are right, UniFi solves all of this. It just takes time, knowledge, and money to do so at a much higher level of demand than the AmpliFi system caters to.
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.